‘They don’t value it, they don’t care’: why Liverpool’s most prominent buildings are being squandered
Restoring this city’s heritage? Not quite as easy as ABC
Dear members — last week a fire broke out in the city centre. Smoke wafted out of the former ABC Cinema and through the area, four engines were required to put it out. The cause isn’t yet known, nor the extent of the damage, but the building — one of Liverpool’s most prominent — has seen its share of ill fortune over the last three decades. The problem is, it’s not the only big-deal building here that’s been left to languish for years and years. We’ll be asking what this charred husk of a once-beautiful structure tells us about this city’s issue with finding a use for its historic buildings.
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Your Post briefing
Liverpool have made the three-city shortlist for the relocation of the English National Opera, but hold the vuvuzelas; metro mayor Steve Rotheram is worried about unfairness in the bidding process. Last year, Arts Council England told ENO that if they didn’t move out of London they’d lose significant funding, prompting anger and excitement in equal measure. Since then, there’s been considerable talk of which city might get ENO — a huge prize (and something we covered in depth). But yesterday Rotheram, along with Liverpool City Council leader Liam Robinson, called for clarity in the bidding process, asking for it to be as “fair and transparent as possible”. The implied unfairness referred to rumours that ministers favour relocation to one of Liverpool’s two rivals on the shortlist: Manchester and the West Midlands (although the letter noted that Robinson and Rotheram did not “place too much truck in rumours”). The letter, addressed to arts minister Stephen Parkinson, also said: “We would appreciate if you were able to clear up some of the uncertainty surrounding the bidding process and give your assurance that the best bid will be successful.”
The Adelphi Hotel could be prosecuted by Liverpool City Council after a woman died in her room last September. 21-year-old Chloe Haynes was crushed to death by a wardrobe, and now — as the Echo reports — the council is considering several options after concluding its investigation into the circumstances of the death. Spot checks were carried out last year regarding the safety of the rooms after the death was ruled accidental, with several issues found and prohibition notices served (which the Adelphi is in the process of appealing).
Connor Chapman, the man currently on trial accused of the murder of Elle Edwards, was served with a gang injunction two months before allegedly carrying out the crime. Edwards died after being shot at a Wallasey Village pub on Christmas Eve last year, but Chapman denies carrying out the murder. At Liverpool Crown Court, the jury was told that two other men — Kieran Salkeld and Jake Duffy — were the intended targets, amid an ongoing feud between people on the Woodchurch and Beechwood estates in Wirral. On 26 October last year, Chapman was served with an injunction “to prevent gang-related violence”. According to the prosecution, it prohibited him from associating with a number of individuals, including Salked and Duffy. He was also prohibited from entering the Woodchurch estate (apart from using a route to get to the address where he was living with his grandparents) and the Beechwood estate. The trial continues.
By Jack Walton
Last week, one of Liverpool’s most significant buildings was ablaze. The former ABC cinema — disused since 1998 — went up in smoke at around 9pm on 7 June. It isn’t clear how. It took four fire engines — lined up beside the former cinema and down Elliot Street as far as Richard John Blackler Weatherspoons, plus an aerial appliance — to put out the fire. Smoke was seen emanating from the higher stories of the building and wafting through the area.
In Liverpool, some argue there’s no smoke without fire (couldn’t resist). Which is to say, the rumour mill starts working overtime each time a disused listed building goes up in smoke. Wink and nudge comments stacked up on Twitter: “Wondered how long it would be till they started trying something like this,” read one. “Can’t cope with the subtlety,” read another.
To be clear, Merseyside Police have said nothing yet to suggest the fire is suspicious. The fire service have cordoned the area off and are still attempting to work out how it started. But conspiracy theories aside, what was clear is that this building has been repeatedly let down. The fire last week was merely the latest in a long string of unfortunate events marring the history of the ABC.
Because the ugly truth is this: the ABC is one of Liverpool's most prominent buildings, and it's been empty for a quarter of a century. This would be an easier statistic to swallow if this was an anomaly. But the part that really sticks in my craw is that this is a pattern. So why can't this city find a use for its most prominent historical buildings — what exactly is going wrong here?
But before we dive in, in the interests of balanced journalism, it’s only fair to explore what’s going right. The council pointed us in the direction of large-scale investments that had been made with regards to Liverpool’s heritage, including the 2021 document — Liverpool, World Heritage City — which details £700m of investment in upgrading historic 119 assets. It includes the refurbishment of 59 listed buildings, as well as a further £800 million to be spent on 40 more sites including Bramley-Moore Dock.
Still. It’s worth scrutinising the example of the ABC more closely, because for all the good work the council has done, it’s a story that has played out across Liverpool. Before decline set in, the building was a Lime Street landmark: it opened in 1913 as The Forum, designed by William R. Glen and Alfred Ernest Shennan, a swaggering art deco building that formed part of an entertainment zone that included the Futurist Cinema, with its Georgian facade and Sicilian marble floors. The ABC closed its doors in 1998 with a special screening of Casablanca. Tickets were £1, or two old shillings. A romantic send-off for a special venue.
Nowadays, a little less romance hangs over the place. Imagine this: A first-time visitor to Liverpool steps off the train, and is immediately confronted by the ABC. It goggles back at them, about as welcoming as a dead-eyed drinker in a Western saloon bar. They’re hoping it’s an exception but, alas, it forms part of the underwhelming stretch of Lime Street and the territory just beyond: The Adelphi, the multi-story car park, the 051, the ABC. Suffice it to say, if you asked a newcomer to draw conclusions from their first sights of the city, they’d be hard pressed to believe that this was the buzzing creative hub that spawned the Beatles, The Mersey Sound, Beryl Bainbridge. More likely, they’d assume we invented the colour beige.
The really teeth-grinding-inducing aspect is that there have been huge plans for the building that have come to nothing. The past three decades have seen plenty of false dawns: in 2007, Urban Splash — the property developers known for restoring old buildings and regenerating neighbourhoods — wanted to make it into a New York style supper club. The financial crash put paid to that. But the most promising break appeared in 2016.